Stark unemployment and Universal Credit figures show impact year of Covid has had on West Country

The reality could be even worse because still a few hundred thousand people in the region are on furlough

The impact a year of Covid lockdowns and restrictions has had on the economy has been laid bare today with the Office of National Statistics publishing the monthly unemployment numbers for the West Country.

Unemployment in the region has increased by 33,000 in a year.

Today's updated numbers are from the three-month period between November and January. During this period there was a small decrease of the number of people registered unemployed, however the figures show that 124,000 people in the region are now unemployed.

That compares to 91,000 people unemployed in the region before the first lockdown a year ago. However, the reality could be even worse because still a few hundred thousand people in the region are on furlough, with the taxpayer paying 80 per cent of their wages.

As restrictions come to an end ministers are hoping those furloughed people will return to their jobs as the companies they work for become viable again, although, there are concerns some businesses simply won't be able to exist without ongoing Government support and that would see the number of people out of work increasing further.

Minister for Employment Mims Davies MP said: “Today’s figures highlight the challenges facing us on our road to recovery, but there is reason for optimism with more workers on payrolls and over half a million vacancies out there.

“Our Plan for Jobs is delivering for people of all ages right across the country, and with the recruitment of an additional 10,000 Work Coaches and the opening of new Jobcentres in local communities, we’re helping even more Brits back into work as we build back better from the pandemic.”

More people relying on Universal Credit

What is perhaps the even more concerning data released today, is how many people in the South West are relying on Universal Credit and other benefits.

172,000 people in the West Country were claiming benefits last month compared to 75,800 a year ago which is a staggering rise in a year and shows how devastating the economic impact of this pandemic is on people across the region.

So much of our region's workforce is reliant on the tourism and hospitality industries, which have been closed or operating under strict restrictions for a year. The hope is that with restrictions due to ease gradually in the next few months those industries will fully reopen along with retail, and that will see more people returning to work and needing to be less reliant on benefits.

On this first anniversary of the first lockdown there is much focus on the impacts of the past year and it is likely the economy will take a while to recover fully. For this reason some Conservative MPs are pushing for a quicker unlocking of the hospitality industry, while ministers dismiss this approach saying this unlocking needs to be slow so that it is irreversible - arguing that a return to lockdown would be more damaging for the economy than a slow exit from this one. 

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